Shelterline, a free, national, 24 hour housing advice line - which was set up with support from BT and the DETR - received 39,748 calls in its first six months. Over 20,200 of these were from people who were literally or imminently homeless.
'In just six months Shelterline has worked with tens of thousands of people, helping to prevent and alleviate homelessness and housing problems,' said Chris Holmes, director of Shelter. 'What emerges is a depressing picture of people facing homelessness and inadequate housing. While we were encouraged that many people called in time to be able to prevent a crisis, far too many others were sleeping on the streets or had already lost their home. We hope that these figures will encourage people to call sooner.'
A further 3,232 calls were from people seeking accommodation. Among the highest scoring problems were: rent and mortgage arrears, harassment and illegal eviction, dampness and disrepair and domestic violence. Others were already facing landlord possession, mortgage repossession or disputes with their landlord.
Shelterline has received calls from people in the vast majority of local authority areas of England (29,487 calls), Scotland (1,225 calls) and Wales (862 calls). Not surprisingly, in addition to the large percentage of the calls from London (20,169) many calls came from Birmingham (406), Glasgow (364), Manchester (342) and Bristol (282).
This initial analysis does not give a clear indication of need in each area but does provide a valuable snapshot of the range of problems people face and the need to promote the preventative role of Shelterline. While homelessness was the most common reason people rang there was a variety of other problems facing people in each area.
'BT is convinced that Shelterline significantly reduces human misery and that in many cases, one call can prevent a housing problem becoming a housing crisis,' said Stephen Serpell, head of BT Community Partnership Programme.
Shelterline can be contacted free on 0808 800 4444. Advisers have access to an extensive database including information on legislation, local agencies and the availability of hostel beds. Work with callers varies from straightforward advice which enables people to then help themselves, to more detailed work with one of Shelter's 53 housing advice centres.
Callers not facing a crisis are advised to ring Shelterline, if possible, at weekends and outside normal working hours. While most calls have to date been made during the day, Shelterline has been able to provide for many people facing a housing crisis during the night.
70 PER CENT OF LONDON CALLS FROM PEOPLE FACING NIGHT ON THE STREET
Analysis of over 20,000 calls made from London to Shelterline show that 70 per cent were made by people who were without a bed to sleep that night or were just about to become homeless.
Of the 20,169 calls from London, 14,213 were from people facing the night on the street.
'There is a real housing crisis in the capital,' said Chris Holmes, Director of Shelter. 'Most hostel beds are full by mid-morning and there is a massive shortage of homes for people living on lower incomes. As a result local authorities in the capital are struggling to house even those people who are in priority need, let alone homeless single people.
'In just six months, Shelterline has worked with tens of thousands of people, helping to prevent and alleviate homelessness and housing problems. What emerges is a depressing picture of people facing homelessness and inadequate housing. While we were encouraged that many people called in time to be able to prevent a crisis, far too many others - particularly in London - were sleeping on the streets or had already lost their home. We want people to call sooner.'
In addition to homelessness, 2,233 calls were made from people in London who needed accommodation. The most common housing problems were related to domestic violence (339 calls), rent or mortgage areas (168 calls) and dampness and disrepair (175 calls).
Nearly 400 calls were from people facing general problems with their landlord, with an additional 117 calls from people suffering harassment and illegal eviction. Over 272 people who called the line were asylum seekers.
Shelterline has received calls from every local authority in London. Not surprisingly - given population density and social diversity - the highest number of calls were from Westminster, Lambeth, Camden, Southwark and Brent.
This initial analysis does not give a clear indication of need in each area but does provide a valuable snapshot of the range of problems people face and the need to promote the preventative role of Shelterline. Nationally, the percentage of calls to Shelterline from people facing a night on the streets was 50 per cent.
1. Shelter ran Londonline some years before the launch of Shelterline. Awareness of the existing service may partly account for the high level of calls from the capital.
2. Shelter is a campaigning organisation which last year worked with over 100,000 homeless and badly housed people.
3. A breakdown by local authority is available from Shelter. Tel 0171 505 2052. Ask for Jenny Reindorp.
4. Shelter has an ISDN line. Tel: 0171 251 2790.
5. Shelterline was launched on 3 December 1998 with funding from BT, the DETR, trusts and many individual donations. All calls represent a 'household'. The numbers above indicate calls received rather than individual callers, some of whom may ring Shelterline more than once.